New York City has got a reputation as a pretty tough town, It’s fast paced, noisy, crowded and its citizens have a habit of being pretty intolerant towards tourists and others who get in their way as they make their daily rounds. That is unless of course you happen to be a bird, more specifically, a red tailed hawk…
The year is 1991 and just as they have since the beginning of time, red tailed hawks start their bi-annual migration to warmer climates in search of food, mates and place to kick back and relax. Their migratory path takes them over the skyscrapers and bright lights that adorn New York City. Oh, maybe they act as any other tourists would and drop by and see the sights and dine on a pigeon or two and then be on their way. But, one of them, a male who was less than a year old, decided he liked what he saw and began to take up residence in Central Park. This marked the first time in the city’s storied history that one of his kind had called New York “home”.
At first, the early morning denizens of New York would gather in the park and watch and wait to see how the hawk would begin his day. The crowd, if you could call it that, was limited to locals but soon the word spread and it wasn’t long before the park was filled with other New Yorkers from the surrounding boroughs. Sensing a story in the making, the crowd expanded and soon included members of the media, free lance photographers, journalists and naturalists alike. Most thought it was a passing fancy and that soon the hawk, dubbed “Pale Male” because he was a lighter shade than that of his companions, would be on his way and that city life would return to normal.
Well, New York is not your normal town and Pale Male was not your normal hawk. Soon, he began being spotted in the some of the most expensive real estate in Manhattan overlooking Central Park on New York’s famed 5th Avenue.
The next year arrived and Pale Male managed to attract a mate. I'm guessing that the offer of some prime real estate, good eats and a view of the park was too much to resist and soon he and “First Love” were building a nest 12 stories up on a posh apartment building in mid-town Manhattan. Since hawks generally mate for life, it looked as though they were here to stay.
After a couple of years of trying, the nest lay barren but in 1995, Pale Male became a father. He now had three mouths to feed and he and First Love were seen soaring the skies in search of prey. He also had to defend his nest from packs of marauding crows that would have liked nothing better than a free lunch. Soon, the three chicks were each eating a pigeon a day and Pale Male and First Love were doting parents. But, as we all know, the time comes when the chicks must leave the nest.
Since most hawks fledge somewhere around 45 days, crowds began to gather in Central Park seeking a vantage point to witness their first flight. Folks with video cameras, binoculars, zoom lenses and pens and paper all wanted to catch and record the history making event. Champagne and cake stood at the ready and a general party atmosphere had taken hold in a city that often takes itself too seriously.
After a couple of disappointing days, the crowd became anxious. The hawks, maybe sensing that they were being watched danced and flitted around the nest but refused to make that first leap and test their wings.
Well, we all know it’s in a hawk's nature to fly and fly they finally did. Rather shakily at first but with some practice, all three were soon seen in trees of their own that dot Central Park. Soon, they would follow the migratory path of their ancestors and leave New York for good.
With the kids grown and gone, one would think that maybe Pale Male and First Love would fall victim to empty nest syndrome and pack their bags and take a vacation of their own. This was not to be, I’m guessing that the husband and wife had become true New Yorkers and decided to stick it out. Soon, there were two other broods to be raised but First Love was tragically killed when she fell victim after eating a poisoned pigeon.
Undaunted, Pale Male managed to attract another mate and raise some more chicks in their perch overlooking the park. She wound up dying of old age. Pale Male went on though and attracted his latest mate, “Lola”. In the ensuing years, Pale Male managed to feed and raise 25 chicks that took flight and brought smiles to the faces of many hardened city dwellers and it looked like more were on the horizon.
In early December of this year, the board that ruled the apartment building had had enough. Scaffolding was erected and the nest which had been home to Pale Male for over ten years was torn down. The metal spikes, first installed to ward off pigeons but served to hold the nest in place were removed so that the couple would not be able to rebuild. The building owners cited hawk droppings and the ever present crowd as a “nuisance” that was disturbing the human inhabitants of the building.
New Yorkers were outraged and there is a movement afoot to replace the nest. To date, the building owners said that they have no intention of doing so since they were not breaking any environmental laws and that red-tailed hawks are afforded no protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Like I said earlier, New Yorkers have a reputation of being some pretty tough customers and maybe this time they were toughest on one of their own. When the buildings owner confronted the assorted bird watchers to tell his side of the story, they responded by pelting him with buckets of pigeon shit. A fitting end if you ask me.
These days, Pale Male can still be seen soaring over the skies in Manhattan. Often times, he’s spotted with twigs clutched in his talons and he has returned to his original perch many times looking confused and lost.
Other high price buildings in the neighborhood have stated that they would love to have him as a resident but so-far Pale Male has declined their offers. After all, as any New Yorker will tell you, it’s really hard to find a good apartment in the city.
(If you haven’t seen the PBS documentary on Pale Male, it’s well worth the hour that you’d spend watching it. Besides the fantastic footage of the star, it also offers up a glimpse of the softer side of the many New Yorkers who took delight in his presence.)
UPDATE 12/15/2004 - Score one for the little guy! In response to the many protests over Pale Male's recent eviction, the building owners have relented and will allow the hawks to rebuild on their original site. They will replace the spikes that were removed so that the nest, should Pale Male and Lola decide to come back, will be returned in order to anchor it in place. We shall see!...
UPDATE 12/30/2004 - according to reports from CNN, Pale Male and his latest love, Lola, have been spotted carrying twigs to the original nest site. This is a good thing in more ways than I can express...
UPDATE February 17, 2005 CNN has this so say about the loving couple. "New Yorkers were all atwitter Thursday over the highly public canoodling of one of their most high-flying celebrity couples -- Pale Male and Lola.
I guess true love never dies.
UPDATE February 8, 2012 Just for grins I checked on Pale Male and he's still alive and kicking. I also discovered that the average life span of a red tail hawk is around 21 years. That puts Pale Male in the senior citizen category and I dread what my next update will be.
For some truly amazing images of Pale Male, Lola and their offspring may I suggest you pay a little visit to here and poke around some.